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Sunday, November 1, 1998 Published at 08:33 GMT

World: Americas

New Orleans takes on gun lobby

New Orleans is one of the most violent cities in America

By correspondent Malcolm Brabant

One of the most violent cities in America has launched a landmark lawsuit to try to force the gun industry to pay for the costs of firearm-related violence.

Nearly a 150 people have been shot dead in New Orleans this year confirming its reputation as one of America's most dangerous cities.

The Mayor of New Orleans in Louisiana, Marc Morial, is sick of what he calls the vile, heinous and preventable violence in his community.

New Orleans is now challenging one of the richest and most powerful groups in the United States, the gun lobby, which fights tooth and claw to uphold Americans' constitutional right to bear arms.

It is seeking to recover millions of dollars that have gone towards police protection, emergency services, police pensions, medical care and lost tax revenue related to handgun violence.

Guns 'too unsafe'

The legal action was prepared by attorneys who helped anti-tobacco campaigners extract thousands of millions of dollars in compensation from cigarette companies.

Their action says manufacturers should bear responsibility for killings and injuries because they had not invested enough in technology to make guns safer.

Mr Morial accuses manufacturers of failing to employ smart technology, such as personalised gun locks, radio systems to block unauthorised users and devices that indicate the presence of a bullet in the chamber.

'Litigation tyranny'

A spokesman for the American Shooting Sports Council, one of the defendants in the case, has described it as litigation tyranny.

He said when firearms are used responsibly and legally the benefits far outweigh the cost of their misuse.

Although victims of gun violence have taken legal action against the industry in the past, this is the first time such an action has been brought by an elected body.

Mr Morial is hoping other cities will follow suit.

Much will depend on how many Americans are prepared to end their traditional love affair with the gun.

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